This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Thurnby Lodge community centre protests "intimidating" visitors
People using a community centre have complained to police that they feel intimidated by a continuing protest.
Groups of demonstrators have been gathering outside Thurnby Lodge Community Centre most evenings for the past two months to object to plans to let a Muslim prayer group take over a disused Scout hut.
At a police beat surgery on Monday, attended by more than 20 people, officers were asked to do something about the protesters.
Officers said they would continue to patrol outside the centre – which is also a police station – but could not end the demonstrations because the group had a right to peaceful protest.
Up to 400 people at a time have been expressing anger about proposals for the former Scout hut in Nursery Road, which is likely to become a community centre operated by Islamic charity As-Salaam Trust.
The trust currently meets at the community centre next door. The protestors want Leicester City Council, which owns the building, to use the hut as a venue for the whole community.
While police said there had been no "major policing incidents", many estate residents who have not taken sides in the Scout hut issue said they were disturbed by the long-running protests.
One member of a Friday night bingo group said numbers had dropped from about 30 to 20 since the protests began.
She said: "Our Friday night group's on the point of closing because of this. People in their 70s, 80s and 90s aren't reassured just because the police are there."
Another woman at the meeting said: "We don't want to be involved and feel pestered by them."
A 46-year-old man at the meeting said: "The protesters are there every day.
"We appreciate what the police are doing but people are frightened about what's going on and groups in the centre are not getting as many people.
"People coming in who don't want anything to do with it are being asked why they don't join in the protest."
Pc Susan Oakes told the meeting: "This has been going on for some time and there haven't been any major policing incidents. I know it's intimidating for someone who's 70 or 80 who has to go past the protest but the numbers of protesters are dwindling and the situation has been handled maturely. The police don't have any power to move them anywhere else and it's a peaceful protest.
"Some comments have been made on both sides but we don't want to be going in and arresting people when feelings are high. That's not in the best interests of the community as a whole."
Maxine Williams, the manager of the Stirrup Cup pub on the estate, who has been helping to organise the protests, said: "I wouldn't have thought it would put people off using the centre – the protesters are mostly older people and families.
"There are some younger lads who are more boisterous and are shouting at cars asking them to toot their horns to show support but I wouldn't say they were intimidating."